The gender lens- lessons in Reporting Rape

A.S. Panneerselvan

The HinduA.S. Panneerselvan

Oct 22, 2012- The Hindu

In the Bangalore edition of this paper published on October 15, 2012, there was a story on sexual assault on a law student, and some of our readers were alert to notice that the report was not sensitive enough. Though the report refrained from naming the victim, a good practice not to doubly penalise the victim as identifying the victim can lead to unwarranted stigma, it did give away some other details which can be construed as identifying clues. This was indeed a mistake.

When this was pointed out, the Bangalore editorial team swung into action. The story was recast in an appropriate manner in the Internet edition. The Hindu’s Bangalore Bureau Chief, Parvathi Menon, responded immediately: “An inexperienced cub reporter, lax gate-keeping on a lean Sunday night, and a biased report the next morning. The reader has raised all the right questions on how to (or how not to) report sexual assaults. We are usually careful and gender sensitive in such matters — scrupulously avoiding any pointers that could identify the victim, and I am deeply distressed that such a thing happened. We apologise for this slip-up, and it is a lesson learnt.”

This raises the larger question of gender-sensitive reporting. The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 is a watershed on reporting gender in media. The conference came out with two strategic objectives for media: a) Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication, and b) promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media. A diverse team of women journalists, writers, activists, academics and media scholars worked on a number of manuals, glossaries and media tool kits to help journalists to deploy what is now popularly called the gender lens in their reporting and analysis.

Since the Beijing Declaration, the quality of reporting gender has vastly improved, and the presence of women in our newsrooms has dramatically increased. Yet, gender-sensitive reporting has not become a matter of routine. There is a huge gap between our desire to have a fair gender representation and practice. The latest study done by the U.K.-based journalists’ association, Women In Journalism, brings out this stark reality. It looked at bylines, photos and did content analysis of leading British dailies. The findings do not make us feel proud.

The study says: “we found that 78% of all front page bylines were male; 22% were female. We also counted separately the gender of the journalist whose name appeared first on the lead story, and the results here were similar: 81%, male; 19%, female.” It further explains, through meticulous empirical listing, that men dominate even the content in many ways. According the study, “of all those quoted or mentioned by name in the lead stories, 84% were men, and just 16% women.” (

One of significant differences the finding brings out is the role of men and women in news stories. It found that three-quarters of “experts” were men and 79 per cent of “victims” were women. It further states: “the most interesting findings here are that while nearly a fifth (19%) of women quoted or mentioned were ‘victims,’ hardly any men fell into this category (2%); and that men featuring in news stories are significantly more likely than women to be ‘experts’ (82% of total men, compared with 61% of total women).”

A leading international expert on ethical journalism and Director of Ethical Journalism Network, Aidan White, says: “When Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard vigorously rounded on Opposition leader Tony Abbott last week accusing him of hypocrisy and misogyny she was widely praised, but not by the mainstream media which said she was diverting attention from problems of sexism within her own party. However, this was a predictable media response say observers who complain that when it comes to bias, discrimination and gender stereotypes journalism is part of the problem.”

As White rightly points out, changing this will require a radical shift in the male mindset in all areas of public life but particularly in journalism. And at The Hindu, we are trying to institutionalise this radical shift.



#AmandaTodd’s death provokes serious societal questions: #vaw #onlinebullying



Published on Thursday October 18, 2012, Toronto Star

Amanda Todd, 15, took her own life after years of intense online bullying.
Judith Timson

Two very different videos went viral recently.

The first was of a grown woman, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, vigorously attacking an opponent on his alleged sexism.

Gillard’s prolonged fusillade in Parliament against Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, had jaws dropping all over the world. “You’ve got to see this!” was one message I got, while on Twitter her speech was described as “scathing” “passionate” and “incandescent.”

The second video, posted on YouTube, was the now sadly famous one of B.C. teenagerAmanda Todd silently recounting, using only flash cards, her horrific “never-ending” experience of being bullied both online and in person, and her subsequent depression.

Because the 15-year-old killed herself last week, it is utterly wrenching to watch. It has provoked national anguish, countless talk show conversations, an RCMP investigation, and a renewed parliamentary debate on how to stop bullying.

Both videos tapped into an important question: How do you stand up for yourself in a tear-down culture?

With her hand pointing in the direction of Abbott, whose facial expression went from an arrogant smirk to supreme discomfort, Gillard, 51, delivered impassioned detail after detail of what she called his “repulsive” behaviour, including standing next to a sign that said, “Ditch the witch.”

If her opponent really wanted to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, thundered Gillard, “he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.”

Some people harshly criticized her rant as hypocritical (she was trying to contain a sexism scandal involving a member of her own government) but no one could deny it was riveting, almost a crash course in how a powerful woman stands up for herself.

Nobody messaged me that I “had to see” Todd’s video, which only achieved prominence after her death — you don’t urge that kind of pain on anyone else. But it’s a must see, too: it speaks viscerally, not just to the horrors of what the CBC’s Internet expert Jesse Hirsh describes as “a virtual lynch mob,” but about equally elusive issues of vulnerability, true self-confidence, and how to help our kids stand up for themselves in a brutal smackdown culture.

While we don’t know all the details of her final days, watching it has led to a deep sense of public frustration about why this obviously spirited young woman seemed so alone and why she didn’t get the help she needed to beat back bullies intent on destroying her self-esteem and reputation (and who disgustingly continue, even after her death, to savage her online).

As the agonizing goes on about how to combat online bullying, we as adults also need to come clean about the ways we participate in this culture. (I even wondered whether, in loving Gillard’s speech, I was just enjoying the fact that she ripped into that guy with the smirk.)

We give ourselves permission to judge just about everyone, from red carpet celebrities in ill-chosen designer gowns — “what was she thinking?”— to public figures who have the misfortune to look or act silly even for a second.

We, the jury, lie in wait, and we now have the technological tools to spread our contempt, sarcasm or ridicule far and wide. We don’t like to admit we fuel this culture because then we’d have to stop Facebook “liking” or forwarding those milder put downs ourselves.

All this mocking and hissing we now accept as part of our cultural landscape is lethal for some teenagers. It breaks their spirits and their hearts.

Toronto family therapist Diane Moody suggests a mandatory “sensitivity training credit course” in schools in which drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, physical disabilities and other challenges are discussed and in which compassion is actually taught.

She also says students need to learn “the difference between aggression and assertion.” The Gillard speech would work well in that discussion.

Todd’s video will live on as a haunting act of both bravery and desperation. If only she had survived her horrific experience. If only she could have eventually grown up.

Who knows what she would have become? A singer, as she dreamed? Or maybe even someone who fiercely takes on an opponent in parliament.

Judith Timson’s column runs every Thursday. Email her at

See more Amanda Todd coverage here

See more Judith Timson here




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